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Indian fanboy culture: the beginning

Baahubali director SS Rajamouli has said the online platform will be used to ensure that the film reaches a wider audience.  

ts cliff-hanger climax has become a pop-culture phenomenon in the form of memes, jokes and fan theories. The sequel to Baahubali: The Beginning will be released in late 2016 or early 2017 but the makers have lot more for the medieval, mythical world of Mahishmati: an animated series, digital comics and games. Filmmaker SS Rajamouli and Sharad Devrajan, co-founder and CEO of Graphic India, speak to Sankhayan Ghosh about how the immersive world that was created for the films make for standalone stories, the search for a unique visual style and how this could possibly be the start of a fanboy culture in India.

What do you intend to do with Baahubali comics?

Rajamouli: We had about a year and two months of pre-production before we started shooting because we were creating the world of Baahubali, which is not just the story, screenplay and dialogues of the film. We have detailed notes on each and every character, kingdoms complete to the last details of what are they wearing, why are they wearing. Where do they grow raw materials of the cloth? The details of the nature of the soil of Mahishmati: their commercial and food crops.

What do they manufacture, what are the minerals, what are the metals? You have seen Baahubali using a sword is made of a certain metal. They have very good Damascus steel; they have brass, copper, iron, so we have designed the swords out of these metals. What is the level of expertise they have achieved in meteorology? The level of scientific expertise they have. Our art director and costume designer for the film was informed by these when they were working. In part I, you could see a pyramid kind of a structure at the centre of the courtyard on top of which sits the throne. The ministers sit below. The coronation takes place there in part II. We plan to show more of Mahishmati’s societal hierarchy. We have this huge bible that contains a whole world. We knew we had to make comics, a TV series and animated series for people to experience it in entirety.

How did the collaboration with Graphic India happen?

Sharad: There haven’t been too many films like Baahubali in India that involves the creation of a world, a myth. Fanboy culture is a multibillion dollar industry in the rest of the world because they have stories to empower that community and culture. We can’t do that with rom-coms. We both had a presence at Comic Con, Bengalurubefore the film came out. We realised we had a lot of shared similarity. There’s enormous amount of world building in Baahubali which gives us the scope to pull out moments and stories and different things that stand alone on their own . We believe this is a start of transmedia (storytelling) in India.

Rajamouli: When we started shooting the film, many people approached us for animation (possibilities). Those would have died with the shelf life of the film’s theatrical run. We wanted to create a franchise. After we met Sharad and he started talking about his ideas, it was as if he was reading out what we had in mind for the past two and a half years.

How will you appeal to people who haven’t watched the film ?

Rajamouli: It is like you go and see Taj Mahal from the other side of Yamuna early morning. You see it again, this time in the middle of the night perched on a tree . It’s still the Taj Mahal but the experience is entirely, completely different.

Sharad: It’s like the episodic animated series Star Wars Rebels . The experience will be deeper if they have the seen the movies, but not watching it doesn’t take away anything from the standalone experiences . Also animation in India is perceived as kids’ entertainment. But for the rest of the world it’s a medium to tell stories. We want them to see something they haven’t seen in an Indian comic.

Do you mean physical comic books?

Six hundred million people under the age of 25 are using digital devices. For me, the comic has to be a smartphone experience. We will reach the mass of India through the millions of smartphones, social media and YouTube. We are expecting the comics to come out July onwards. There will be tactile things and physical copies as well that we are looking to release around the release of Baahubali: The Conclusion.

The film had such an ‘Indian’ aesthetic drawn from Amar Chitra Katha. Have you decided on the look of the comics?

Sharad: We are searching for something that will address this. We are working on a unique visual style that feels fresh and serves the story well. We also want a lot of creators in the comic book and animation industry to come together and do some groundbreaking work.

Rajamouli: Indian films are an offshoot of Western films. Even early Indian cinema had people wearing saris and dhotis, but most of the shot making and everything else is borrowed from the West. Gradually over the years, we brought out a style which feels Indian. But the DNA is still Western. So what we think is Indian is not necessarily completely Indian. The important thing is when we make something, it should feel Indian. In the name of originality and authenticity, many films project India through poor people, depressing music, famine, dogs on the streets. Frankly, I get irritated looking at those. For me, it doesn’t matter if it’s real or not. I want to see my country in a rich, visual splendour. And when I see it I should know that, “Oh, maybe India was so great and rich once upon a time”.

Is the comic going to pick a subplot from the film?

Rajamouli: One of the starting points will be the rivalry between Amarendra and Bhallal deva. The story is essentially around the rivalry. But we don’t quite know why did that rivalry develop? There is a lot of intrigue there:things that are not in the movie. But it’s in our larger story. Some may be narrated, other’s maybe through characters’ actions.





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